Two teachers suspended from a Wynnewood Quaker school amid student protests over a canceled speaker have filed a discrimination complaint against the school and demanded state and federal civil-rights investigations.
Friends Central School teachers Ariel Eure and Layla Helwig say Head of School Craig Sellers put them on indefinite suspension on Feb. 13 in “retaliation” for their support of the school’s Peace and Equality for Palestine, a new student club.
The club had invited a Palestinian speaker, Swarthmore University professor Sa’ed Atshan, to speak, but Sellers canceled the speech after some parents and students complained. The disinvitation prompted several student walkouts and a petition objecting to what some viewed as censorship.
In their complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Eure, 25, of West Philadelphia, and Helwa, 26, of South Philadelphia, contend they were required to do things to help students create the club that aren’t required of other student clubs.
They claim discrimination based on their “physical characteristics, ideology, sex and sexual orientation.” While they officially were disciplined for “disobeying the directives of (a) supervisor,” they claimed white faculty members who disobeyed directives were not similarly disciplined, according to the EEOC complaint.
“This school isn’t behaving like a Quaker institution,” said attorney Mark D. Schwartz, who represents the teachers. “This is what I would expect of an Aryan Youth school back in the ‘30s and ‘40s. It’s a good thing I’m not a parent (of current Friends Central students), because I would stop paying tuition.”
Schwartz asked the EEOC and Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to investigate and said he eventually expects to take the matter to federal court. The school rejected a settlement offer from Schwartz and has hired attorneys and a public relations firm to handle the scandal, Schwartz said.
The school issued this statement in response to the EEOC complaint: “We have long-standing expectations for all members of our community – especially for our teachers, who have the responsibility of guiding young minds. The teachers were placed on paid administrative leave because they failed to follow explicit directives and because of their stated intentions going forward. To say anything more would be inappropriate given that this is a personnel matter still under review and consideration.”